13th Sunday of Ordinary Time
01 JULY 2001
Scriptual Reference: 1 Kgs 19:16,19-21, Gal 5:1,13-18, Luke 9:51-62

Taking a New Route and Leaving the Baggage Behind

       I'm sure all of you know that 56th street is closed right past the cemetery. That makes travel very inconvenient for those of us who live around here. There is a big sign that says, "Road Closed: Local Traffic Only." One evening, I was driving home, minding my own business after a typical day at about 9 p.m. I knew that 56th St. was not blocked and that the workers were at home. I decided to interpret the sign broadly, and included myself as local traffic; after all, I live in Brownsburg. So, I drove past the sign, rather than taking another route. Well wouldn't you know, I saw flashing red and blue lights, and after a cordial conversation with a fine young officer, I was given a warning and told to find a new route. This type of unexpected encounter and admonition is what another young man experiences in the first reading today. Elisha, a farmer living long ago, was minding his own business. He was working with his oxen plowing the field. Elijah, an important prophet, calls Elisha to succeed him in his prophetic work. He does this by throwing his cloak over Elisha, a cloak which must have symbolized Elijah's prophetic role in the community. Elijah, in essence, was calling Elisha to follow another route, to begin a new journey in his life. Elisha's response was immediate. He knew he couldn't take the oxen along with him as baggage, so he slaughtered them to feed his family, using the yoke for firewood. Then, he follows Elijah and serves as his attendant. This story shows us how God can unexpectedly call us to take a new route in our lives, even when we are just minding our own business.

       A friend of mine traveled to Paris a couple of years ago. She was traveling alone, and had taken quite a bit of luggage with her. In addition to a big backpack, she had a duffle bag that weighed a good 40 or 50 pounds. While in Paris, all the subway, train, and bus workers went on strike. This left her with no way to get to Charles de Gaulle airport. After a day of research, she learned that there was one train running the 7 miles from central Paris to the airport, but the station was a mile and half from her hotel. After hailing a few taxis in vain, this young woman decided to just lug her luggage through town, stopping a resting every couple of blocks. After about half a mile, she decided to lighten the load, so she dumped about half of her stuff in the trash, and made her way to the train station. She did reach the airport in time for her flight, but she swore that she would never travel anywhere again with that much luggage.

       In today's gospel, Jesus begins his journey to Jerusalem. This journey is a central motif and an important theme in Luke's gospel. He is traveling with his disciples and they pass through a Samaritan village. Now, in Jesus' day, Jews hated the Samaritans. Samaritans were the ones who stayed behind during the Jewish exile some 600 or 700 years before Jesus' day. The Jews considered them half-breeds, and there was a great deal of animosity between the two races. James and John brought this prejudice with them when they learn that the Samaritans had rejected the emissaries of Jesus. They ask, "Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?" But Jesus would have none of this. In order to travel with Jesus, the disciples would have to leave their racist baggage behind. He rebukes them before they travel on to another town, in a certain sense, he demands that they lighten their load to follow him. This story show us what the journey with Jesus means: it means leaving our harmful baggage behind rather than carrying a huge load that weighs us down. We, like the young woman in Paris, know that the baggage is heavy, and we know that we need to throw it away.

       There was once an average man named Joe who lived up in Canada. Joe was a man with an average job and an average family. Joe loved his family, and his job paid the bills. However, when he had been young, he had dreamed of being a professional hockey player. Joe had gotten pretty far: he worked hard in high school and college and eventually made it into their equivalent of the minor leagues. But, Joe didn't quite have the talent to make it. He just wasn't good enough, so he had entered into the management of a grocery store chain and had a family. Even though he had a good life, Joe always regretted his failure to make it big. "What if?" he would ask himself in torment. Joe was always looking back, regretting the past, until his self-pity created problems in his marriage. After some wise advise from a good marriage counselor, Joe began to appreciate what he had in his wife, job and family. He finally was able to let go of what never came to be. And there is where he found freedom. Jesus, in the conclusion of today's gospel, spells out for us what it means to be his disciple. To follow Jesus, his disciples can never look back. Discipleship requires absolute commitment, a commitment that forgoes wondering "what if?" Proclaiming the kingdom of God, according to Jesus is more important than burying the dead or even saying farewell to family. It means putting discipleship first and never dwelling on the "What ifs."

       There are some important messages that we see in this weekend's readings. God can unexpectedly change our route in the midst of our lives and send us on a new journey, just as Elijah changed the route of Elisha's life. If we are to follow this route and journey with Jesus, we have to leave our baggage behind: the baggage of our past hurts, the baggage of our prejudices, the baggage of our small-mindedness. And finally, once we embark on the journey of discipleship with Jesus, we can never look back and regret the past and ponder the "what ifs?", but we must always move forward. Jesus might not ask us to abandon our families or leave the dead unburied, but he will ask us take up the journey with him to Jerusalem, and to leave our heavy baggage behind. +

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